WASHINGTON (Reuters) - From hydrogen fuel cell-powered bikes to aid for an African country that spent millions on a massive monument, Republican lawmakers on Wednesday cited lots of candidates for cutting foreign aid.
Lawmakers berated U.S. foreign aid officials at a congressional hearing, highlighting the challenge the Obama administration faces as it tries to shield foreign assistance from spending cuts sought by the Republican-led House of Representatives.
“Why are the U.S. taxpayers going to buy a solar-powered bicycle? How is that going to help out the world?” demanded Representative Donald Manzullo, an Illinois Republican, at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Manzullo found a description of the bike project on the website of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which along with the Millennium Challenge Corp delivers U.S. development assistance around the globe.
USAID’s website says a $100,000 grant went to SiGNa Chemistry company toward development of the “E-bike” -- “practical, scalable, pollution-free mobile transportation.”
A spokeswoman for the company said, however, the bicycle would not be powered by solar power, but by a hydrogen fuel cell that can also be used as a portable power source.
USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said the grant came from a new venture capital-style investment fund supporting research into technologies that can help the developing world.
But Manzullo was not convinced. “This is a waste of taxpayers’ dollars, and the sooner you guys wake up and understand that, the better off you are going to be,” he said.
Republicans, who took control of the House in November elections, have called for a tough look at non-military overseas spending amid calls to control the federal deficit.
‘HELPS KEEP AMERICA SAFE’
Shah, defending the foreign aid budget for 2012, argued that foreign assistance is linked to national security and costs less than one percent of the nation’s total budget.
“By improving global stability, our foreign assistance helps keep America safe,” he said.
President Barack Obama requested $55.7 billion for the State Department and foreign aid in fiscal 2012, which starts in October. This includes $8.7 billion in funds for aid and diplomatic operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
Republican Representative Sam Poe unfurled a large map of the world and announced that all countries that got some kind of U.S. foreign assistance were colored red. Most of the world was red.
“Many of these, they don’t even like us,” Poe said. “We don’t need to pay people to hate us, they’ll do it on their own.” He proposed an up-or-down vote on each country as Congress decides who should get foreign aid.
Another Republican, Ed Royce, asked why the Millennium Challenge Corp had awarded $540 million to Senegal, a country that last year spent some $28 million on an “African Renaissance” monument larger than the U.S. Statue of Liberty.
Royce complained the statue was manufactured in Communist North Korea. “Our U.S. taxpayers put money into Senegal and that frees up money for this kind of an operation.”
“In terms of the statue, those things happen,” Millennium Challenge Corp CEO Daniel Yohannes responded. “We’re not happy about it.”
Editing by Todd Eastham